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Ala. District Fires National Board-Certified Teacher

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An Alabama school board has fired the only teacher in the state to have earned a prestigious new national teaching certificate, leaving an ironic blotch on a program designed to identify the nation's most able teachers.

Lisa Lishak, a mathematics and history teacher at Opelika Middle School, was one of 81 middle school teachers across the country to be awarded certification earlier this year by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

Despite that honor, the Opelika city school board in May chose not to renew Ms. Lishak's contract after her three years of apparently exemplary teaching in the district. Because she did not have tenure, a reason for her dismissal was not necessary and the board so far has offered none.

Officials with the Detroit-based N.B.P.T.S. said the dismissal was definitely a first for the voluntary certification program. And although officials of the privately organized standards board said they were surprised by the news, they have not made any efforts to intervene on Ms. Lishak's behalf.

"The work she submitted to us showed very high standards, so this news was very disheartening to hear," said Joanne Kogan Krell, a spokeswoman for the standards board. "But while we're interested, we don't have a role to play here."

Calls for Explanation

Since the Opelika board's May 25 decision not to renew Ms. Lishak's contract, the teacher has not chosen to seek formal union representation. In a telephone interview last week, she declined to comment on the board's decision.

The action, however, has drawn the ire of the Alabama Education Association and the local newspaper, which asked in an editorial why the district would let a top instructor get away "in an age when good teachers are harder to find than fresh strawberries in November."

Joel Graham, a field representative for the A.E.A., said he would like the board to explain its action.

"They realized what they were doing," Mr. Graham said. "They used that she was board-certified to get publicity for the district, and after they got all it was worth, they dumped her."

Phil Raley, superintendent of the 4,400-student district, last week declined to comment on the board's action, noting that officials do not discuss personnel matters.

In addition to the N.B.P.T.S. recognition, Ms. Lishak had also recently sought and won a grant from a local business to expand her classroom activities.

Union officials said the principal at Opelika Middle School and an assistant superintendent met with Ms. Lishak in advance of the May board meeting to explain that despite a string of glowing evaluations, her contract might not be renewed.

Mr. Graham asked to speak on the teacher's behalf at the board meeting, but he was not placed on the agenda. He said the board appeared to have decided the issue even before it came up for discussion.

The A.E.A. has complained that the dismissal is a clear abuse of the state's tenure laws. Ms. Lishak would have qualified for tenure had the board not acted on her contract before the end of the school year. Ms. Lishak's best alternative now appears to be landing a job with a nearby district.

An Uncertain Reception

Officials of the standards board have been wary of the reaction that the teachers it certifies may receive. Its surveys have shown that local responses vary widely.

In some schools, officials said, fellow teachers become jealous of their nationally certified colleagues, seeing them as prima donnas. In others, colleagues are supportive and accepting.

Ms. Lishak was among only seven Alabama teachers who completed the arduous certification exercises, and the only one to win certification in the first batch announced by the board in January. Eighty-one teachers nationwide won certification out of a group of 289 that completed the process.

Another group of teachers will be named by the standards board next month.

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